There are only a few things in my life that even after years of familiarity are still attractive to me. After 25 years in marriage, I am happy to say I am more attached to my spouse than ever. Yes, she is definitely a keeper. Of course, I was committed to her from the beginning. Snow skiing is another one that is better than ever. As winter approaches, I am actually fired up to climb on the stepper machine at each morning’s workout. The old thigh burn is feeling great.
Another blessing in my life is very much career related. After three decades of shutter manufacturing, I am still in love with wood. Not faux wood, not wood fiber byproducts, but the real stuff with its natural feel and freshly cut fragrance. Bringing out the unique grain characteristics and patina of this living material retains its satisfaction for me.
Based on the latest shutter markets estimates, many others still hold to their appreciation of the real thing in spite of the unprecedented promotion of wood substitutes. From the results of D&WC’s shutter survey (see April 2002, page 46), wood shutters still outsell vinyl by a two to one majority. And due to the nature of many wood shutter companies (a custom woodworking mentality not subscribing to window treatment publications), participation in the survey was incomplete on the wood shutter side. The self-evident reality is that people have a natural attraction to real wood.
There is more to this story as to why real, solid wood remains preferred for the best in shutter work. It has to do with the structural integrity of the shutter panel. It is very revealing to compare panel size limitations between manufacturers of wood shutters versus wood substitute shutters. Based on information made available by manufacturers, most vinyl shutter designs are properly limited to a maximum panel width of less than 30 inches with few extending to 36 inches. Real wood shutter panels have been available for many years to three feet wide with some extending to 40 inches and even wider. This is possible because of the greater strength-to-weight ratio of wood over the various substitutes. (Some of the vinyl designs actually use wood inserts to add rigidity.)
The higher strength of wood is also evident when comparing maximum panel heights without a divider rail (the horizontal stabilizer dividing louvers above and below). An informal survey of shutter manufacturers reveals that wood shutter panels without divider rails have for decades been commonly available up to eight feet tall and higher. This maintains the wide-open view that makes wide-louver shutters attractive. Most wood substitute shutter designs need a divider rail starting at about six feet high. This is also evident in the advertising photography (lots of divider rails) from many wood substitute shutter manufacturers.
Another indication of the higher strength-to-weight ratio of real, solid wood is the preference of shutter installers. Ask your best shutter installer for a choice between installing wood shutters versus wood substitutes. I am confident of the answer because real wood shutters are usually lighter and thus easier to lift. Most wood substitute shutters have been designed with a keen eye on weight reduction versus loss of strength, an inherent challenge.
Real wood is attractive and strong because it is a natural product. The grain structure from tree growth gives wood both its beauty and its strength. However, because wood comes from the harvest of trees, there has been criticism of its use. This criticism is based on the notion that tree harvesting harms the environment. Facts gathered from forestry management in the United States indicate otherwise.
Here are some common misconceptions collated with the facts:
• Misconception: U.S. forests are in decline; we are running out of trees.
Facts: We still have 70 percent of the forestland that was here in 1600; that is, 737 million acres of forests.1 Since 1952 our hardwood forests have increased 82 percent in volume of growing stock and our softwoods have increased four percent.1, 2 Annually, over 1.5 billion trees are planted in the United States. That is more than five trees for every man, woman and child in the United States.3 Each year six trees are planted for every one that is harvested.4
• Misconception: We are not protecting our old growth forests.
Facts: There are 13.2 million acres of old growth in the United States, including eight million acres preserved in national parks and other set asides.5 The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service estimates that forests with old growth characteristics on federal lands will increase by several million acres over time.6
• Misconception: Trees, if protected, can live indefinitely.
Facts: Trees have a natural life span. Once they reach maturity, growth slows, decay sets in and they eventually die. Many species live fewer than 200 years, other survive longer. Even a preserved forest will eventually succumb to fire, wind, insects or disease and a new forest will grow in its place.
• Misconception: There are other materials that are more environmentally friendly than wood for making shutters.
Facts: Wood products come from a resource that grows, matures and is replanted and renewed for future generations. Wood is recyclable, biodegradable and durable, sometimes lasting for centuries. Wood products make up 47 percent of all industrial raw materials, yet uses only four percent of the energy needed to process those materials.7
The real, solid wood used to manufacture shutters in the United States is the strongest, most beautiful and most environmentally friendly raw material in use. Real wood shutters have a great future, as they remain the favorite of homeowners. This is good news for me as I continue to enjoy working with the real thing. I’m still having fun, and wood is still the one.
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T. Brant O’Hair is director of marketing for O’Hair Shutters, Ltd., Lubbock, TX, (806) 765-5791; (800) 582-2625; www.ohair.com.
1 Douglas S. Powell, Joanne L. Faulkner, David R. Darr, Zhiliang Zhu and Douglas W. MacCleery. 1993. Forest Resources of the United States, 1992. USDA Forest Service. General Technical Report RM-234.
2 USDA Forest Service. 1999. Resource Planning Act Assessment Data-base Retrieval System. www.srsfia.msstate.edu/ rpa/inv/.
3 USDA Forest Service. 1997. Tree Planting in the U.S, 1996.
4 American Forest & Paper Association. 1995. U.S. Forest Facts & Figures.
5 American Forest & Paper Association, 1992. Quick Facts About America’s Forests.
6 USDA Forest Service, 1998. Old Growth Forest Vegetation. www.fs.fed.us/land/fm/oldgrow/old grow.htm.
7 Canadian Wood Council. 1994. Technical Bulletin No. 2: Environmental Effects of Building Materials. www.cwc.ca.